Mike McDonell served as supply and logistics officer for Headquarters, Eleventh Marines, and as a duty officer and patrol leader with the First Marine Division’s Northern Sector Defense Command from 1967-1968 in I Corps. He retired after thirty-four years of Federal service as a writer/editor and public information specialist. Mike lives with his wife Suellen and spends his time teaching, traveling and writing. Mike is co-founder of the Memorial Day Writers’ Project.
Xin Loy, Charlie
No sweat, buddy
Miss you, honey
Love you, Mom
Guess I’ll never catch up with you, Dad
Guess I’ll always be nineteen
Heard the one about the Grunt and the NVA?
Grunt was sitting in his hole,
watching tracers stitch the dark
in red and green over the roar of incoming
Grub yelled “Ho Chi Minh is a son of a bitch”
and not very far away a voice replied:
“LBJ is a running dog’s bastard”
That’s not all: the next day they find
the grunt and the NVA dead
in the middle of the road
locked in a bear-hug
and grinning at the magic moment
that the deuce and a half rolled over them,
at the very moment of their agreement
and celebration well before the pin-heads
and cookie-pushers had settled on the shape
of the negotiating table
True war story: circa 1967-68
First Marine Division TAOR I Corps RVN
It may have happened on the Cua Viet
or at the mouth of the A Shau
the Hai Van or the Dinh Ban Passes come to mind
or maybe it was Nui Loc Son in April during the Union
or a month later during Union II
but it sure as hell happened at Tet of 68
when the Fifth took Hue and the boys on both sides
took shit at Khe Sanh
Truth be told, it might have even happened to a doggie
in Cholon by the race track (just him and Nguyen)
or an airman, or a sailor, or a nurse
Could have been a Donut Dolly
and all her counterparts,
they all had names like Van, and Tran, and Trung,
and Nam but only the Ghost Gunny knows for sure
and he’s not talking any more today.
But maybe tonight...
Spade Cooley’s Zap-Momma
Spade Cooley was draped across an Okinawa O Club divan,
his left leg in a dirty cast from his crotch to his toes,
and around his neck was tied a sweat-rag,
its checkered pattern faintly seen through caked black.
Hey, man, its been a while since Quantico
with the Zoomer and the guys.
Like the tie? How you been?
Me, I’m surviving; waiting to sky--
I di-di in the morning,
back Stateside to Oaknoll
so they can work some more on my laig.
Caught some north of Con Thien,
got some on “Operation Buffalo;”
that’s what they call it.
We called it “The Three Gates of Hell.”
It started as a patrol--
battalion size, one-nine.
That was my home-- First Battalion, Ninth Marines.
We were north of the Trace
on the Z at a spot they called The Market Place.
They ambushed us,
and the whole battalion.
Why we call it Three Gates of Hell?
‘Cause we fought to get in,
we got ambushed again and again,
and we fought to get out
and they wouldn’t let us, man.
We left the dead and came on back for them
and they fell on us like rabid dogs;
they walked among us wounded
and popped us like ticks.
We exploded in blood
but we got some, too:
dig two graves--
one for him
and one for you.
Don’t mind if I do!
Mine’s a Stinger--
cool menthol going down,
then exploding brandy
on an empty stomach.
Fire for effect, man.
All I need’s a Thai stick
to finish the job.
Attention on deck!
The Officer of the Day
regrets to report
that Major General Bruno Hochmuth,
Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division,
was killed in action when his Huey
exploded in mid-air today.
Bet the pogues in graves
had fun getting him out of that
rotary bladed C-rat can
and ready for his flight home.
He should have been with us;
on line under the sun,
pushing out into the fields
of hard-packed brown and yellow stubble
towards the tree line and the hedgerow
where the bodies of our bros
lay scattered and bloated--
made in the shade,
but out of the sun.
Nguyen knew that we were coming
and when we squad-rushed forward,
he opened up and we went down,
digging deep with fingers, toes and chin
as deep as we could go
which wasn’t far enough
‘cause most of us were hit or dead before we fell.
I saw the one that got me--
actually, there were two.
A short AK burst from the crotch of an old banyan
missed the femoral but got the femur,
shattered it in two and put one through my knee-cap
as clean as a b-b through thin plate glass.
I lay there playing ‘possum with a dead-man’s stare
while the sing-song boys laughed and giggled
and shot the wounded. I heard our screams
and moans cut short with a shot and heard
the bark of their officers and sergeants
ordering them forward, towards another
slaughter beyond our field.
I never took my dusty eyes off that banyan;
I saw the khaki figure slide down its trunk,
while the comrades pushed though the hedgerow behind me
and left me in silence feigning death.
Trotting toward me at carry-arms,
the figure was gracefully dodging the bodies
and making straight for me.
I saw the eyes; they saw mine.
They were not fooled.
And as the AK went from carry to assault,
I rolled and stitched the torso in red roses
and saw the long, black and shining hair
splayed in the sunlight, in the moment that lasts
forever, and above the eyes wide with wonder
and the round mouth yawning in surprise.
She went down hard, without a sound,
and in her hand, a black checked sweat-rag
which I tied around my leg to staunch the flow.
I watched her go. Now she lives in me
and I’ll carry her just as she would have
Stingers dripping from my cast,
oozing coolness. Sure, I’ll lose the leg
but not here! I’ll wait for Oaknoll
and join the crippled vets and live in Georgia
and think of her and how no woman ever
touched me like she did, and how she binds
and stanches the flow.
Like her black checked sweat-rag
dark with blood, she will live at the bottom
of my seabag memory. And rising up
in nightsweats, I’ll remember
and she will live: my killer angel,
We’ll dance the two-step
in fields of fire
and join the others,
the Walking Dead,
and live in now
and live in then;
I live in dread
I saw their names in concrete before ours were
carved in stone: Arnaud et Ugette
un marriage splendide— porquois?
Sait on jamais (one never knows)
The French bunkers lay like ancient boils
on either side of the Hoa Khan pass,
excised and pockmarked, burned
and defiled by men and monkeys.
Tigers ate them both,
or what was left,
after battles in the dark
between the primates.
Monkeys and Frenchmen
tasted very much the same.
In the dark
there was no difference,
Danny and Rhonda
Peace and love
Sait on jamais,
one never knows,